Saturday, January 11, 2014

Blending in with the Background

Res Publica

Blending in with the Background

by David Trumbull
January 3, 2014

On Thursday, December 26th, President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 (H.R. 3304). The massive bill (500 pages in length) funds the U.S. military and makes several changes to personnel and procurement policies. Of interest to me is a policy change that mandates all branches of the services to use the same camouflage pattern.

The change had been pushed by William Enyart, Democrat from Illinois' 12th District, who says he started wondering about all those different patterns of camouflage in the service branches after reading a Washington Post story detailing how the military now has ten kinds of camouflage and spends millions on camouflage design.

Enyart's proposal had bipartisan appeal given the duplication in the military at a time of austerity in government. A Government Accountability Office September 2012 report revealed that the military had spent $300 million in 2011 to purchase new camouflage and millions more for design. Over time, the study found, service branches have designed camouflage that distinguish one service from another. In a decade, the services introduced seven new camouflage uniforms with a variety of patterns and colors — two desert, two woodland and three universal patterns.

"Camo" is big business. Just in the year 2013 Depart of Defense contracts for camouflage clothing totaled $89.1 million. Much of the production of the camouflage fabrics that go into the uniforms is done in Fall River, Massachusetts, at Duro Textiles LLC. Hundreds of jobs have stayed in Fall River, rather than being "off-shored" to low wage and less regulated parts of the world due to a law, known as the Berry Amendment (U.S.C. Title 10, Section 2533a), which goes back to 1941 and was first enacted as part of America's preparation for World War Two which requires the Dept. of Defense to give preference American made products. In the case of clothing or textiles, every stage of production from fiber, to yarn, to fabric, to finished garment that will protect our men and women in uniform, must take place in America.

Some have argued that we should scrap "Berry" and get our uniforms, tents, and parachutes from cheaper overseas sources such as China. Such thinking is very shortsighted. Think what would happen when -- after the U.S. manufacturers had been put out of business by cheap foreign competition -- we found ourselves at war and unable to clothe and shelter our soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, and coast guard because we could not get the supplies from a foreign source that was unable or unwilling to ship to us?

The new Defense bill, by preserving "Berry" but also requiring a consolidation of camouflage design across the services, assures that our uniformed personnel will have a reliable source of military clothing while saving money.

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